By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Though visually imaginative and colorful, Disney’s 2010 live action/CGI version of Alice in Wonderland doesn’t really have much of a story. To be perfectly honest, I had to re-watch the film a few days ago because I seriously did not remember much about that film other than knowing I was not all that impressed by it. My opinion about the film remains the same, and my memory is refreshed as to why. For all of its visual panache, the story is paper thin. Going into the sequel, I found it difficult to expect otherwise from the new installment, but was pleasantly surprised to see that this new film actually has a descent story.
Three years since her last adventures in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) has been sailing in her father’s boat and visiting foreign lands. After visiting China, Alice returns home to London to discover that her mother (Lindsay Duncan) is in trouble. Her former fiance Hamish Ascot ( Leo Bill), in a vindictive tantrum, threatens to take away all that is near and dear to them. In a panic Alice escapes to Wonderland where her dear friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has some troubles of his own. At the behest of their mutual friends, Alice travels back in time to save the Hatter, but Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) warns her about the undesirable effects of tampering with the past.
Written by Linda Woolverton, based on the stories and characters of Lewis Carroll, and directed by James Bobin (The Muppets), Alice’s new cinematic adventure is a more entertaining and engaging film than its first installment. Because it involves time travel, Bobin and Woolverton have the opportunity to flesh out some of the characters by giving the audience a glimpse of their back-stories. Not only does the audience get to see why the Hatter is so mad and sad, they get to witness why the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is so reprehensible and why she despises her sister so much. As enthralling as the story gets, the climax does somewhat disappoint and the film wraps up a little too perfectly.
As for the visuals, the CGI really hasn’t improved much since the last time. As with the last movie, I feel that the filmmakers have gotten too carried away with their use of CGI, and Wonderland and its colorful landscapes look cartoonish and artificial. There are times in the film where it is obvious that the actors are standing in front of a green screen. Though I realize that it is difficult to bring their bold visions to life, I still wish the filmmakers and crew would have done more practical work for the movie.
As for the cast, all of the returning members offer solid work with Mia Wasiowska showing more maturity and confidence in her performance. Depp also gets to show more of his range this time, as his character gets developed more fully here. Actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Rhys Ifans make wonderful new additions to Wonderland. Cohen who portrays Time delivers a fun and entertaining performance. Ifans who stars as Zanik Hightopp, the Mad Hatter’s father, rarely fails to perform well in his roles and his work in this movie is no exception.
So I am happy to report that although the film does have its flaws, it is definitely an improvement on the first film. I wouldn’t recommend spending top dollar to see it, but I do think it is worth at least a matinee. I do not know if Disney has any plans to continue this franchise, but one can only hope that they continue to make improvements. If a next one does go into production, I would not only love to see more writing improvements, but revamped effects and the use of more practical sets. Otherwise, why even call it a live-action movie? It is essentially mostly CGI animation with a handful of living actors in front of these images.